Cristian Roldan’s first season in Seattle was anything but ordinary.
After landing with the Sounders as the club’s 16th overall pick in the 2015 MLS SuperDraft, Roldan found himself subbing into the very first match of the season against the New England Revolution before making his first start against FC Dallas just weeks later.
From there, he continued to rack up first team minutes as the rest of the midfield battled injuries, earning 11 starts and 22 league appearances—the third-most games played by a draftee in his first year in team history.
Roldan’s workhorse mentality made him an integral part of the Sounders system as the squad pushed to the playoffs. By the time he picked up his first career MLS assist on Sept. 19, it was clear that he brought a versatility that the club admired.
On the road in Dallas during the Western Conference Semifinals, he even picked up some time at left back, far removed from his comfortable spot in the central midfield.
“I remember last year,” Roldan said following Monday’s training session in Tucson. “It was a difficult time for me; I had to adjust to the game. Now I’m on the opposite side, and I’m doing well and I’m ready. I’ve come into preseason on a good note.”
And his offseason work is evident, as he finds himself adapting to the squad’s changing formation. With the departure of central midfielder Gonzalo Pineda—someone Roldan looked to as a mentor—a new opportunity opens for him, but he remains aware he’ll need to fight for playing time after the addition of midfield depth, including summer signing Erik Friberg and offseason pickup Michael Farfan.
“We have a mixture of veteran guys and young guys,” Roldan said. “We have depth in the midfield and I think Sigi [Schmid] has confidence in us. It translates to us and it helps us play better.”
Schmid does have confidence in his midfield, and he has not been shy to call out Roldan’s progress.
“He has the ability to start for us,” Schmid said last week. “He’s definitely matured in his game compared to where he was a year ago. There’s definitely been a good jump and a big improvement.”
With his full attention on making an impact heading into year two, Roldan isn’t quick to forget what it’s like to be the new guy in preseason camp. This year, he’s rooming with rookie defender Tony Alfaro, a fellow Californian who he remembers watching play college soccer at Cal State Dominguez Hills as a high school player.
And instead of asking for advice, this time Roldan is the one passing it down.
“He asks me a bunch of questions,” Roldan said. “and I’m happy to answer them because I remember what it’s like to be in his shoes.”
As the team gears up for its first competitive match of the season on Wednesday against Vancouver Whitecaps FC, Roldan feels the group’s chemistry will help them excel early on as they continue to experiment with new tactics.
“We played Vancouver five times this past year. We’re familiar with them, we know how they play,” he said. “Obviously, seeing a team like them this early is good for us because we’re trying things out. I’m sure they are too.”